It has been an incredible week of events: Power outages, debris clean-up and removal, and repairing damage from the storm.
The state is trying to secure federal resources to help communities and individuals recover.
Please feel free to reach out to me with any problems you might need assistance with. Stay safe. We will get through this!
Derecho recovery under way
Many of us learned a new word last week: “derecho,” the hurricane-strength weather system that moved across Iowa and other Midwestern states, causing widespread destruction on August 10:
- There have been at least three confirmed storm-related deaths in Iowa.
- Iowans in 27 counties saw property damage and lengthy power outages.
- More than 8,000 homes were destroyed or had major damage worth more than $82.7 million.
- Public infrastructure suffered an estimated $23.6 million in damage.
- Costs for debris removal and disposal are estimated at $21.6 million.
A federal disaster declaration for Iowa was approved on Monday to provide funding for debris removal, utility repairs and hazard mitigation.
Iowa requested a total of about $4 billion in federal funding. This also includes about $3.77 billion for crop damage and $45.3 million in household assistance, which are still under review.
Current storm recovery resources
The Gazette is updating a list of opportunities to help in eastern Iowa recovery efforts.
The Iowa Department of Human Services has state resources for those impacted by the storm, including in Disaster Proclaimed Johnson County.
Individual Assistance Grants: Households with incomes within 200% of federal poverty (maximum annual income of $43,440 for a family of three) can apply for grants for home and car repairs, replacing clothes and food, and temporary housing.
Food Assistance: Iowans who receive Food Assistance can request replacement of food destroyed by the storm or power outage. Completed applications must be turned in by September 17.
Local food pantries also offer assistance. Learn what is available near you at foodpantries.org/iowa.
Disaster Case Management: Assists all Iowans with overcoming disaster-related hardship. Disaster case managers help you create a disaster recovery plan and provide guidance, advice and referrals.
Disaster Mental Health Assistance: A Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team is prepared to respond to the mental health needs of Iowans following disasters. Local authorities may request assistance by contacting the Homeland Security and Emergency Management at 515-725-3231.
For a comprehensive list of disaster relief resources, including farming and agricultural resources, go to iowa.gov/disaster-recover-resources. If you need assistance accessing resources, find the DHS office nearest you, or call 1-877-347-5678.
Beware of cleanup and repair scams
Iowans cleaning up from storms should beware of potential scams. “Storm chasers” often head to disaster areas to persuade storm victims to hire them on the spot for cleanup and repair work.
The Iowa Attorney General recommends that you:
- Deal with established and reputable local businesses.
- Check contractors before you sign a contract or pay any money.
- Thoroughly explore financing options, and avoid paying large sums up front.
- Know your right to cancel.
- Record the contractor’s license plate number and vehicle description.
Go to www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov for more on avoiding scams, hiring contractors, price gouging and more.
Let’s send kids back to school safely
New reports based on information from the Iowa Department of Public Health suggest that current COVID-19 conditions may be worse than we’ve been led to believe. It appears some new cases and deaths have been backdated, making it difficult to know how current circumstances are playing out.
I continue to practice preventive health measures, including:
- Wearing a mask
- Keeping distance from others in public places
- Washing my hands frequently
- Staying home when sick
These defenses against the spread of COVID-19 are our best chance of getting life back to normal as soon as possible. It’s back-to school time, and most parents would love for kids to return to their classroom – when it is safe.
School boards, educators and families continue to deliberate the safest approach with the information available. After all, their health and safety and that of their communities is at stake.
The Iowa State Education Association recommends a three-point checklist for safely reopening schools:
- The COVID-19 pandemic is under control in the community.
- Protections are in place to protect students and staff.
- Plans are in place to ensure continuous learning for all students.
Our neighbors to the north are taking these steps and more, showing us a safe way to ease children back into classrooms.
Minnesota is ensuring high-quality remote education until it is safe for students and educators to return to school. The Minnesota plan:
- Requires schools that reopen to meet safety thresholds, including masks for students and teachers, social distancing, cleaning and protective equipment—and provides state support to cover the costs.
- Prioritizes COVID testing for students and school employees when cases are identified.
- Requires schools that are not fully open to provide free child care for front-line workers.
No amount of seat time in a classroom will make up for jeopardizing the health of our kids. Let’s put their safety first as we continue to assess our return-to-learn plans.
Lost Wages Assistance funds
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved Governor Reynolds’s application for the Lost Wages Assistance program, which provides eligible unemployment claimants with additional benefits. Iowans whose unemployment is the result of the pandemic, and who are eligible for at least $100 in benefits per week, will qualify for an additional $300 in weekly benefits retroactive to the week ending August 1.
More information, eligibility requirements and the application process are available at iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov.
Unfortunately, the weekly benefits will only be half of what jobless Iowans received before July 31. It’s also disappointing that Governor Reynolds failed to provide an additional $100 per week in state funding to help Iowans who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
COVID Recovery Iowa services
COVID Recovery Iowa offers a variety of services to anyone affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Virtual counselors provide counseling, referrals and resources to any Iowan seeking help. COVID Recovery Iowa regularly announces upcoming programs to help Iowans build coping skills, resilience and emotional support at covidrecoveryiowa.org.
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program
If you are a farmer whose operation has been affected by the pandemic, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program provides direct relief to those facing price declines and additional marketing costs due to COVID-19. The USDA is accepting applications through August 28. Producers should apply through the Farm Service Agency at their local USDA Service Center.
Local governments can receive expense reimbursement
The distribution of $125 million from the federal CARES Act will help reimburse local governments for expenses related to COVID-19.
For costs incurred March through July, a claim must be submitted by September 15. For costs incurred in August and September, a claim must be submitted by October 1.
Each city has a maximum reimbursement amount based on 2019 population estimates. For guidance on which expenses might be covered, check out the state’s guidance. The following items are likely to qualify:
- Personal protective equipment.
- Sanitizing products.
- Medical supplies and equipment.
- Temporary emergency staffing and overtime costs.
To receive a reimbursement, a city must pass a resolution and submit it, along with supporting documentation, through a web-based state portal. Local governments should work with the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management on submitting applications.
Eviction & Foreclosure Prevention Program updates
More Iowans can get assistance with rent and mortgage payments under expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 Iowa Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention program.
Those who previously received $600 in weekly unemployment benefits can now apply for assistance. Those previously denied assistance due to unemployment benefits may re-apply.
Who qualifies? Renters and homeowners at risk of eviction or foreclosure due to a COVID-19 related loss of income since March 17 who meet income and other eligibility criteria. Household income at the time of application may not exceed 80% of the median family income, which varies by household size and county.
What’s available? Up to four months of rental assistance ($3,200 maximum), including manufactured home rent and lot rent; or up to four months of mortgage payment assistance ($3,000 maximum).
For complete details and to apply, go to IowaHousingRecovery.com.
Celebrating the right to vote
Voting is our country’s most fundamental mode of civic participation.
This week, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote—the 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920—and with it, the ongoing march toward full equality and citizenship for all Americans.
One-hundred years later, we have another voting rights victory to celebrate: Iowa will no longer automatically institute a lifetime ban on voting for all Iowans convicted of any felony. Iowa is the last state in the country to take this step.
Earlier this month, Governor Reynolds issued Executive Order 7, restoring the right to vote and hold public office for thousands of Iowans who have completed their felony sentences. The Governor has also vowed to continue pushing for a constitutional amendment, which is only way to ensure the right to vote remains permanent.
A constitutional amendment has been delayed time and again by Iowa Senate Republicans who have failed to support efforts to restore voting rights, even after their counterparts in the Iowa House secured a 95-2 vote in favor of this key bipartisan priority.
With the General Election quickly approaching, an executive order is the best way to make heard the voices of more citizens in our communities.
The NAACP has been active for decades in pushing for voting rights because racial disparities in our criminal justice system disproportionately impact African Americans and other people of color. To ensure the Governor’s executive order allows all eligible Iowans to vote in November’s election, the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP is calling for additional steps.
The organization has asked Iowa the Secretary of State to immediately update voting and elections information on his website, on voter registration forms and in the state’s Voter Ready Toolkit. It’s important for all materials to accurately reflect that most people with a felony record are now eligible to register to vote and cast a ballot, and to provide the information they need to do so.
Prepare to vote by mail
If you haven’t already requested your vote-by-mail ballot for the November election, now is the time. More and more Iowans are voting by mail because it’s safe, quick and convenient.
3 steps to vote by mail
- Make sure you are registered to vote at your current address at sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterinformation.
- Fill in the vote-by-mail request form you received in the mail from the county auditor, or download one at sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/absenteeballotapp.pdf. Fill it out carefully and sign it.
- Mail or deliver your vote-by-mail request form to your county auditor. Their contact information is available at sos.iowa.gov/elections/auditors/auditorslist.html.
News you can use
Census deadline is Sept. 30
Iowa ranks among the top states in our response rate to the U.S. Census. Still, not everyone has been counted, and the deadline has been moved up to September 30.
The Census Bureau aims for a complete count, which will provide critical resources to communities and citizens. Census responses affect funding for health care, child care programs, libraries, public transportation, schools, job assistance programs and other public services for the next 10 years. For each person who isn’t counted, a community could miss out on millions in funding.
If you haven’t completed your household’s census yet, you can do so in a couple minutes at 2020census.gov. Otherwise a local census taker will be knocking on your door, wearing a face mask and carrying an ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date.
Schedule your child’s annual health checkup
The Iowa Department of Public Health is reminding families to schedule annual physicals and immunizations. Routine health care keeps children and communities protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, well-child visits have declined in Iowa. But health care providers have made accommodations to protect patients while providing safe and essential services.
Up-to-date vaccinations are required for school entry. Get complete details on the IDPH website.
Comments sought on state transportation improvement plan
The Iowa Department of Transportation will accept public comments via conference call on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program from 2 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, August 20.
A brief overview of the Program will be provided, followed by comments and questions.
A draft of the plan identifies all state, county, city and federal projects proposed for funding through federal highway and transit programs between 2021 and 2024. It can be viewed at iowadot.gov/program_management/stip/2021-2024_STIPDraft.pdf.
Through September 7, comments may also be provided by contacting Matt Chambers, of the Iowa DOT's Program Management Bureau, at 515-239-1409 or Matthew.Chambers@iowadot.us.
Pharmacies offer free NARCAN®
To reduce opioid-involved deaths in Iowa, the Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Board of Pharmacy are making naloxone available for free at local pharmacies. Anyone 18 or older can request to be screened for eligibility. If approved, the pharmacy may dispense NARCAN nasal spray kits at no charge.
Those in a position to assist in the event of an opioid overdose are encouraged to learn about NARCAN and have a supply on hand. Greater availability of naloxone can help keep people alive, offer a chance to get help and begin a journey of recovery.
For more information and to order naloxone, visit www.naloxoneiowa.org.